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Psychiatrists call for total ban on alcohol advertising

A GROUP of psychiatrists has called for a complete ban on all alcohol advertising and sponsorship in Ireland.

Irish teenagers spent €145 million in 2006 on alcohol, more than the entire annual spend on illegal drugs, according to psychiatrist Dr Bobby Smyth from the Irish College of Psychiatrists, a representative body for Irish psychiatrists.

Dr Smyth was speaking at the publication of a policy paper yesterday which calls for a complete ban on all alcohol advertising and sponsorship in Ireland.

“A recent report by the Office of Tobacco Control revealed that our 16-17-year-olds spend €20.09 per week on alcohol. This amounts to an illegal alcohol market of €145 million in this country and as a society we seem to be accepting this as ‘normal’,” he said.

However, the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland said yesterday there was a sharp decline in alcohol consumption during the first half of this year. An analysis of excise receipts from the Revenue Commissioners reveals sales of alcohol were down 14 per cent last month, compared with August 2007 and fell by 7 per cent during the first eight months of the year.

The group’s chairman Michael Patten predicted the decline would continue. “On the basis of these figures, it’s likely that we’ll see a decline in alcohol consumption per adult of 8 per cent or more during the current year, that’s more than the decline we saw over the past six years combined,” he said.

He said the industry was under pressure due to a weakening economy and a high cost base for alcohol producers and retailers. “This is worrying news for jobs in the domestic alcohol manufacturers in particular, and for the traditional high-employment retail sector.”

Tony Foley, an economist with Dublin City University who carried out the analysis for the industry group, said sales were down in pubs and restaurants as well as in off-licences and supermarkets. “Consumption in Ireland peaked in 2001 and has been in decline since. These figures show however that the pace of that decline has picked up dramatically.”

An international survey of teenage drinking in 2004 by the European School Survey project on alcohol and other drugs revealed Irish teenagers demonstrate the highest rates of drunkenness in Europe, with 25 per cent of respondents saying they got drunk at least three times per month.

Dr Smyth said this finding was particularly worrying given emerging scientific evidence of the harm alcohol can do to the developing teenage brain. “The earlier someone starts drinking, the more likely they are to develop a dependence ,” he said.

“I am seeing people who start drinking at 13. That gets boring, so they move to drugs at 16 or 18. Alcohol is a gateway drug.”

The psychiatrists’ group said Irish children were exposed to high levels of alcohol advertising and sponsorship, with virtually all sporting events linked to alcohol products. Dr Smyth also criticised self-regulation of the industry.

“We have no meaningful restrictions on advertising in print or electronic media, and all that has happened in recent years is the creation of an illusion that something is being done,” he said.

“There were no drug dealers at the table when the social partners were discussing how to tackle the problem of drug abuse. So why are the alcohol industry at the table? They will do anything to protect their profits. Meanwhile, hundreds of lives are being lost.”

A spokesman for Irish Distillers said the industry was “an industry under pressure”, particularly in the Republic as alcohol was more expensive here than in the North.

Last month, Diageo Ireland also said it was seeing a decline in the alcohol market in the first half of 2008 in all product categories.
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source: © 2008 The Irish Times

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